Afghanistan

Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. The Taliban declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country. (AP Photo)

After the U.S. military pulled out and the Taliban took over Afghanistan, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the country to find new homes in cities across the world, including St. Louis.

Officials told local media outlets more than 1,000 Afghans could eventually arrive in the St. Louis area. The first of those refugees arrived Friday at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Many of these refugees assisted U.S. forces in the war, and others qualified under the Special Immigrant Visa program.

“They worked alongside our troops to help keep them safe,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones told St. Louis Public Radio. “This is a debt we should repay to them.”

The International Institute of St. Louis is managing the resettlement of these refugees in the metro area, finding them initial housing, helping secure jobs and providing training and professional development. For example, the organization plans to offer classes teaching English as a second language and resume-building workshops.

“We’re really keen on providing adjustment services for new arrivals,” said Carrie Brickey Brown, senior community relations specialist for the institute. “We’re looking to enable and give the tools and skills that new arrivals or foreign-borns in general would need to be successful in the St. Louis area.”

It’s unknown yet whether any of those refugees will settle in Franklin County. Brown said that although none of the refugees are moving to Franklin County for their initial resettlement, many of them may choose to move to the county later.

Brown said oftentimes immigrants choose to reunite with family that came to the country before them. It is possible some of these Afghans have family members living in Franklin County.

Meanwhile, Brown said there are ways people in Franklin County can help these new arrivals. First and foremost, she said, money is always needed as the federal funding the institute receives isn’t enough to cover some of the basic services they must provide.

“There is a funding gap between federal grant dollars that the international institute receives and the dollars that are required for housing needs, groceries and stuff like that,” she said. “So we’re always accepting and looking for financial donations or donations of grocery store gift cards.”

She said stores like Aldi or Schnucks are good places to buy gift cards for the immigrants. Besides that, Brown said donations of cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and new bedding is always helpful. A full list of items they accept and information on how to donate those items is available at www.iistl.org/donate-items, and monetary donations can be made at www.iistl.org/donate.

For those who want to volunteer their free time, Brown said there weren’t any opportunities for that yet, but she anticipates the institute needing volunteer help as the resettlement efforts progress. “We don’t have a direct pressing need right this second,” she said. “But it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. So we’re looking to engage people who want to volunteer.”

Brown said some of those volunteer opportunities may be virtual.

Brown said studies have shown foreign-born residents are more likely to start their own businesses than those born here. She said many of these Afghans served alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“Whether they’re from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq or wherever, we’re welcoming and wanting these new people to come,” she said.